I wrote this article for my local Audubon newsletter a couple of few years ago. (And have since added to it.)

Jump down to lots of Pawpaw links.

Pawpaws: A Paw for You and a Paw for Me

The Autumn birding hike of October 10th was not very productive in terms of birds. However, during the course of the hike, several of the participants got their first introduction to the Pawpaw, Asimina triloba. The name of this plant is sometimes spelled Papaw - and in that form is often confused with another fruit that sometimes goes by that name, the Papaya, Carica papaya. (The latter is in a totally different family than our Pawpaw, and can only grow in tropical areas.)

Our Pawpaw, which grows as far north as New York and southern Ontario, out west as far as Nebraska and Texas, and south to Florida, is known by several other names including the American Custard Apple, the West Virginia Banana, and the Indiana Banana. There are about seven other members of the genus Asimina, all growing in the southeastern U.S.

The Pawpaw made some headlines in 1992 when it was reported that a Purdue University researcher had isolated a powerful anti- cancer drug, as well as a safe natural pesticide from the Pawpaw tree. The substances are said to be primarily found in the twigs and small branches. The researcher, Jerry McLaughlin, revealed that it was because of some childhood experiences with eating the fruit that he had a feeling that there was something biologically active in the plant.

In the book, Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World, one finds the Pawpaw fruit called "...a natural custard, too luscious for the relish of most people. The fruit is nutritious and a great resource to the savages." Millspaugh, in American Medicinal Plants, describes the fruit as "soft, sweet and insipid, having a taste somewhat between that of the May-apple and the banana, tending to the former." The Peterson Field Guide mentions that the seeds, along with being an emetic, have narcotic properties.

Pawpaws As late as the early 1900's, fishermen in the Ohio valley were using strips of the inner bark for stringing fish. They likely learned this use from the Indians, who used these bark strips to make fabric and nets. It is also thought that the Indians may have been responsible for extending the range of the Pawpaw far beyond its natural growing area.

Closer to home, a West Virginian and DC resident, Neal Peterson, has been conducting a Pawpaw research study for the past eight years at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center near Keedysville. He has 600 trees planted on the Center's property and has been evaluating the fruit from the individual trees with an aim to choose the ten "best" trees in his orchard in order to begin producing the most tasty Pawpaws possible. Peterson hopes to bring Pawpaws to the mass market.

In January of 2009, the pawpaw was named as the native state fruit of Ohio. State Senator Jimmy Stewart, R-20, had been trying to get the pawpaw legislative recognition during his terms as state representative for the 92nd district from 2003-2008 aftre having attended his first Pawpaw festival in Albany.

Note: October, 1997: I found a listing for Paw Paws on the NCSU Poisonous Plants of North Carolina Page. Apparently some individuals cannot eat them without severe stomach and intestinal pain.

Note: September, 2005. Pawpaws should gain in popularity because deer tend not to eat them. While they will eat the fruits which have fallen to the ground, it is thought that the unpleasant smell the stem emits when it is damaged keeps the tree from being palatable to deer. In fact, in certain areas anlong the C and O Canal, botanists feel that it is becoming a weed, taking over places that used to have a wide variety of species, but where seedlings of other trees are being gobbled up by deer, leaving the pawpaws to thrive.

Note: May, 2009 - I was told by someone who tends the mules and canal boats at Great Falls, MD, that unlike the deer, the mules like to eat pawpaw leaves.

--Kathy Bilton

Note: Pawpaw Flower picture by Will Cook

Note: Another green fruit that can be found in some places along the canal - this one in late fall - is the Osage Orange. These fruits are about the size of baseballs and look like brains.... Some aver that they keep spiders away. There are a lot of these trees in the Antietam Campground area of the C and O Canal. (Mile 70 or so)


Pawpaw Links

| Distribution Map for the Pawpaw | Good Paw Paw Page from CRFG | Barry Glick Article |
| Paw Paw Links from U.C. Davis | Kentucky State University Pawpaw Research Project |
| Alta Vista Search for Asimina triloba | The Paw Paw Tunnel Page |


| Return to Canal | Return to Yankauer | Go to the Paw Paw Tunnel |